Tech workers in Latin America want to make Spanish the main programming language


Primitivo Román Montero has always been drawn to coding. When he attended the Higher Institute of Technology in Tepeaca, Mexico, he found it difficult to learn programming languages ​​due to their reliance on English. The logic of the most important programming languages, such as Python, is based on English vocabulary and syntax – using terms like “while” or “if not” to trigger certain actions – which makes it all the more difficult to learn for non-native speakers. . Additionally, many of the most popular educational resources for learning to code, including Stack Exchange, are also in English.

“When I started, everything was in English,” he says. Rest of the world. “It was very difficult to constantly have to translate it and understand it in my language.”

Román graduated in 2007 and has held various programming positions for clients including the Puebla state government. He also accepted jobs where he had to communicate in English. But he never felt comfortable, even though he had some command of the English language.

In 2015, Román decided to start a project that would help future programmers. He began working on what would become Lenguaje Latino, an open source programming language based on Spanish rather than English. The idea was simple: make it easier for Spanish speakers to learn the mechanics of coding before moving on to other languages. “It was something that could contribute to society – a tool for students just starting out and wanting to get hooked on programming,” he said.

However, the English language remains the predominant basis for coding and a sought-after skill required by technology companies in the region, creating a major barrier to increasing the number of people in the industry. According to a recent study by Spanish IT services company Everis, 55% of businesses in Latin America said it was difficult to find the right employee, while experts estimate the region will see 10 million new jobs in the computing by 2025.

As the region sees a torrent of venture capital funding and interest from tech companies, there is growing momentum to address the labor shortage within the region’s tech community by allowing workers to operate in Spanish. Software developers like Román, coding bootcamps, and dating organizations have launched their own initiatives, ranging from translating educational materials to creating a Spanish-based programming language.

An example of Lenguaje Latino in action.

Today, the language developed by Román is used in university programs such as the Instituto Tecnológico de Zitácuaro in Mexico and the Catholic University of Salta in Argentina, he said, although it still functions more as a learning program as something that companies can actually use. He works with volunteers to make it work faster, which he says will allow him to compete with other programming languages ​​such as Python.

The fact that Lenguaje Latino cannot replace common programming languages ​​reflects the challenges of creating a Spanish-based work environment for Spanish-speaking technicians. Marian Villa Roldán is a Colombian programmer and co-founder of Pionerasdev, a Medellín-based nonprofit that helps women learn to code. She agrees that one of the main barriers for Spanish speakers is the lack of Spanish programming language and the lack of Spanish coding resources. She’s heard of Lenguaje Latino, but she doesn’t think it’s ready to replace English-based programming languages ​​in Latin America.

“English is a necessity [to become a programmer],” she says.

Pionerasdev hosts workshops, bootcamps, and meetups dedicated to helping with programming education. The organization translates as much content into Spanish as possible, but for the most part it focuses on learning coding languages ​​without necessarily having to be fluent in English. “We have technicians who understand the implementation, but they don’t feel very comfortable having a conversation in English,” she said. Rest of the world.

Laboratoria, a Peru-based organization with offices across Latin America that helps women learn to code and land tech jobs, takes a similar approach. Gabriela Rocha, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer, said Laboratoria experimented with teaching English as part of its program, but still runs its entire boot camp. six-month intensive in Spanish. Only 14% of its students have an advanced level of English, 50% having an intermediate level and 36% a beginner level, she said.

Like PionerasDev, Laboratoria operates on the idea that students should know just enough English to learn to code and access educational materials, but not necessarily to reach a higher level. “Latin America is a region used to [English] and how to get around this problem,” Rocha said. “The vast majority of opportunities for our students are still in Latin America and don’t require English.” More than 75% of the jobs that Laboratoria students land do not use English as their main language.

Rocha pointed to the region’s banking sector, which is undergoing a technological transformation and needs software engineers to help create new products and services – all jobs that don’t require English. The same goes for many software outsourcing agencies that hire Laboratoria students, like Accenture and Globant.

“English is still very important, and that’s what I think we still lack in Latin America.”

“These roles, at least now, aren’t necessarily dependent on English, which is great because I think we need to create our own ecosystem where Spanish becomes just as relevant,” Rocha said. Rest of the world. But, despite the growing number of Spanish-language programming opportunities, she admitted that many of the top jobs still require English – what she described as the “high-tech” sector, like Google and Uber. “That’s where I think English is still very important, and that’s what I think we still lack in Latin America.”

If the arrival of these types of jobs in the region will stimulate the local ecosystem, it also had a warning. “We will probably start to see a bigger gap between the types of [job] opportunities that people get based on their need to speak English, and this will undoubtedly have negative consequences on talent, the labor market, innovation and business competitiveness,” she said.

Elias Torres is the founder and CTO of Drift, a US-based marketing and sales platform that became a unicorn – valued at $1 billion – in 2021. Torres, who grew up in Nicaragua and moved to the States United at the age of 17, has recently focused on building bridges between the American and Latin American tech ecosystems. One such initiative is to hire Drift employees in Guadalajara and bring these kinds of “high tech” jobs to Mexico.

“I interview everyone in Spanish, and I don’t know anything about their English. [skills],” he said Rest of the world in a recent interview.

Even so, when Drift recently hired a VP of super app Rappi, there was discussion about whether the company would require new hires to speak English. The management team decided that it would be necessary. “The truth is that in software engineering…everything is in English,” he said. “To be a good software engineer… you need to have a certain level of proficiency.”

As Latin America strives to build a robust and self-sufficient technology sector, the language barrier will remain a major obstacle, especially for high-quality positions. To establish autonomy from the US tech ecosystem, Román said tech companies in the region will need to change their mindset.

“We don’t have Silicon Valley here, and we need people developing hardware or our own Latin American databases,” he said. “We are still consumers.”

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